The Shadows Move – G.B. Animation

Just before the Cookham crowd swung into top gear, another American, George Moreno, a former animator at Fleischer’s studio, won the backing of three London businessmen, button and belt manufacturers, and spent £43,000 on five cartoons featuring a taxi-cab and its driver called ‘Bubble and Squeek’. Ex-servicemen were trained for the work, but on completion of the sixth in the series the studio folded.

Eleven miles as the crow flies, down-river from Cookham, another enterprising unit moved into a large country house called Little St. Annes, in Egham. This studio was devoted to the production of animated model films and was the brain-child of Commander Gerard Holdsworth, the same man who, before the war, had master-minded the Horlicks advertising shorts made by George Pal for J. Walter Thompson’s Organisation. Four Dutchmen from Joop Geesink’s ‘Dollywood’ Studios formed the backbone of the new unit. Essential English technicians were recruited locally and experimental work began in Jan. 1947 on a road-safety animated puppet film version of the nursery rhyme ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’. This was followed by a succession of sponsored advertising shorts.

In their fourth year, Holdsworth sold the Rolex Watch Co. of Switzerland a brilliant idea. Michael Stainer-Hutchins scripted it, and Bill Jarrett made models of clocks throughout the ages which were then animated and photographed by Frank Hendrix in a ten-minute compilation of scenes depicting the evolution of time measurement. The studio excelled all previous efforts and raised the art of model animation to a new level of creative perfection. Their amazing feat cost £16,000; taking twenty men 6 months to complete, and winning them many prizes.

Their hopes of being taken seriously by the trade and public alike were now pinned on a proposed feature film production of ‘The Little Prince’, but difficulties over the purchase of the rights could not be resolved and, because the success of THE STORY OF TIME came too late to benefit them, this unique Film Unit quietly faded away.

The closure of Signal Films model film-making studio emphasized the difficulties facing all short filmmakers. Despite their obvious expertise, neither the money nor the market were conducive to unsponsored filmmaking. It was an economic fact of life.

And in far off Stroud, Gloucestershire, another studio ran into trouble. In 1950, after several years of meagre activity during which the emphasis had been on colouring and shooting two feature cartoon films for foreign companies, Anson Dyer’s animators decided they could do better on their own and broke away to form Stroud Animators Ltd. flyer struggled on for a further eighteen months with his girls, committed to the completion of the French LE BERGERE ET LA RAMONEUR (released in this country as MR. WONDERBIRD). It was too late in life to begin again, for Dyer was in his 76th year. He did what had to be done, closed the studio and retired.

Although the post-war resurgence of British animation had not realized the hopes and dreams of the brave speculators, the exercise had not been a total failure. For the first time in the history of the genre, we had trained personnel in abundance. It was time for Sir J. Arthur Rank’s personal aspirations to become reality even though the honour of producing Britain’s first feature-length entertainment cartoon film was not to be his. It was too late, for that!

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